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Summary and book reviews of Pew by Catherine Lacey

Pew by Catherine Lacey X
Pew by Catherine Lacey
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  • Published:
    May 2020, 224 pages

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Book Summary

A figure with no discernible identity appears in a small, religious town, throwing its inhabitants into a frenzy.

In a small unnamed town in the American South, a church congregation arrives to a service and finds a figure asleep on a pew. The person is genderless, racially ambiguous, and refuses to speak. One family takes the strange visitor in and nicknames them Pew.

As the town spends the week preparing for a mysterious Forgiveness Festival, Pew is shuttled from one household to the next. The earnest and seemingly well-meaning townspeople see conflicting identities in Pew, and many confess their fears and secrets to them in one-sided conversations. Pew listens and observes while experiencing brief flashes of past lives or clues about their origins. As days pass, the void around Pew's presence begins to unnerve the community, whose generosity erodes into menace and suspicion. Yet by the time Pew's story reaches a shattering and unsettling climax at the Forgiveness Festival, the secret of their true nature―as a devil or an angel or something else entirely―is dwarfed by even larger truths.

Pew, Catherine Lacey's third novel, is a foreboding, provocative, and amorphous fable about the world today: its contradictions, its flimsy morality, and the limits of judging others based on their appearance. With precision and restraint, one of our most beloved and boundary-pushing writers holds up a mirror to her characters' true selves, revealing something about forgiveness, perception, and the faulty tools society uses to categorize human complexity.

SLEEP

IF YOU EVER NEED TO—and I hope you never need to, but a person cannot be sure—if you ever need to sleep, if you are ever so tired that you feel nothing but the animal weight of your bones, and you're walking along a dark road with no one, and you're not sure how long you've been walking, and you keep looking down at your hands and not recognizing them, and you keep catching a reflection in darkened windows and not recognizing that reflection, and all you know is the desire to sleep, and all you have is no place to sleep, one thing you can do is look for a church.

What I know about churches is that they usually have many doors and often at least one of those doors, late at night, has been left unlocked. The reason churches have so many doors is that people tend to enter and leave churches in groups, in a hurry. It seems people have a lot of reasons for entering a church and perhaps even more reasons for leaving one, but the only reason I've gone to a church was to ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Booklist
Lacey's quietly provocative novel is brilliantly composed. She shines a light on the complexity of humans and the dangers of judging and categorizing others based on appearance, as Pew's ambiguity reveals the true nature of her characters.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[P]owerful...The action builds toward a mysterious Forgiveness Festival and a memorable climax with disturbing echoes of Shirley Jackson's 'The Lottery' unveiled in a harrowing crescendo of call and response. Lacey's talent shines in this masterful work, her best yet.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[A] haunting fable about morality and self-delusion...Lacey—spare and elegant as ever—creates a story that feels at the same time mythological and arrestingly like life. Darkly playful; a warning without a moral

Author Blurb Jonathan Lethem, author of The Feral Detective
The mercurial and electric Catherine Lacey has now conjured up an of-the-moment fable of trauma and projection – one part Kaspar Hauser, one part James Purdy, and one part Rachel Cusk. The pages shimmer with implication.

Author Blurb Daisy Johnson, author of Everything Under
I consumed Pew. It is the electric charge we need.

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